the_newsbeagle writes: This isn't old-school brain zapping: It's not electroshock therapy, in which doctors flood a depressed patient's brain with some 900 milliamps of current to cause a seizure and something like a mood reset. This is tDCS (transcranial direct current stimulation), which would let psychiatrists send their depressed patients home with a brain-zapping headband that sends perhaps 2 milliamps of current through specific portions of their brains. A doctor's prescription might call for the patient to do a 20-minute stimulation session daily for a few weeks, then less frequent maintenance sessions.
While tDCS is being investigated as a treatment for all sorts of neuropsychiatric disorders, many researchers and doctors think depression may be the killer app. A South Korean company called Ybrain thinks its consumer-friendly headband for depression will be the product that makes this treatment mainstream — first in Korea, then in Europe, then in the United States and around the world.
the_newsbeagle writes: Crowdfunding campaigns that fail to deliver may be all too common, but some flameouts merit examination. Like this brain-scanning gadget for dogs, which promised to translate their barks into human language. It's not quite as goofy as it sounds: The campaigners planned to use standard EEG tech to record the dogs' brainwaves, and said they could correlate those electrical patterns with general states of mind like excitement, hunger, and curiosity.
The campaign got a ton of attention in the press and raised twice the money it aimed for. But then the No More Woof team seemed to vanish, leaving backers furious. This article explains what went wrong with the campaign, and what it says about the state of neurotech gadgets for consumers.
the_newsbeagle writes: By showing that human cells naturally engulf minuscule silicon nanowires, a material scientist from the University of Chicago has opened the way to intracellular electronics. Applications could include very specialized drug delivery, electrically stimulating the organelles inside the cell, or recording the signals that pass between those internal structures.
the_newsbeagle writes: A seriously wounded person can bleed out within minutes. So first responders, battlefield medics, and surgeons will all be interested in this new technology: a "neural tourniquet" that stops blood loss by zapping a nerve. The handheld device stimulates the vagus nerve to send an electrical signal through the nerve to the spleen, where the blood cells responsible for forming clots receive instructions. This signal primes the cells so that they form clots faster if they encounter a wound anywhere in the body; a study in pigs showed 40% less bleeding time and 50% less blood loss. A startup called Sanguistat is testing the device first as a treatment for postpartum hemorrhage.
the_newsbeagle writes: The big problem with treating glioblastoma, the most aggressive type of brain tumor, is that nothing really works. Surgeons cut out the tumor as soon as it's detected and blast left-behind cells with radiation and chemo, but it always comes back. Most glioblastoma patients live only one or two years after diagnosis.
The Optune system, which bathes the brain tumor in an AC electric field, is the first new treatment to come along that seems to extend some patients' lives. New data on survival rates from a major clinical trial showed that 43% of patients who used Optune were still alive at the 2-year mark, compared to 30% of patients on the standard treatment regimen. At the 4-year mark, the survival rates were 17% for Optune patients and 10% for the others.
The catch: Patients have to wear electrodes on their heads around the clock, and they're wired to a bulky generator/battery pack that's carried in a shoulder bag.
the_newsbeagle writes: Harvard scientists have invented a nifty lab robot that can smoke 10 cigarettes at a time, lighting up for the benefit of medical research on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The bot channels smoke into a "lung on a chip," a small device with microfluidic channels lined by human lung cells. This setup enables researchers to realistically replicate the action of taking regular pulls from a cigarette, and to watch the effects on the lung cells. Researchers can't achieve the same realism with cells cultured in a petri dish or with lab mice--which, interestingly, are "obligate nasal breathers" that typically take in air through their noses.
the_newsbeagle writes: In a stadium in Zurich last Saturday, a new athletic competition showcased the possibilities when machine and muscle work in tandem. The Cybathlon, billed as the world's first cyborg Olympics, starred paraplegic people racing in robotic exoskeleton suits and amputees completing race courses with motorized prosthetic limbs. While the competitors struggled with mundane tasks like climbing stairs, those exertions underlined the point:
"Like the XPrize Foundation, the Cybathlon’s organizers wanted to harness the motivating power of competition to spur technology development. By filling the races with everyday activities, they hoped to encourage inventors to make devices that can eventually provide winning moves beyond the arena."
the_newsbeagle writes: Engineers know how to iterate. Whether they're working in hardware or software, they use the design-build-test cycle to get from an idea to a satisfactory product. Now synthetic biologists are applying this approach to inventing strange new life forms. Ginkgo Bioworks, a hip Boston startup that recently raised $100 million, considers itself an "organism factory." The company's bioengineers use synthetic DNA and a highly automated lab to create novel organisms, trying out thousands of variants as they work toward one that has useful properties—like a yeast that spits rose oil, which Ginkgo is developing for a French perfume company.
the_newsbeagle writes: You can now buy gadgets online that send electric current through your scalp to stimulate your brain. Why would you want to do that? Because the easy technique, called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), is being investigated as a treatment for depression, a rehab aid for stroke patients, a learning enhancer for healthy people, and for many other neuropsychiatric applications.
However, the technique is so new that companies selling brain-zapping gadgets aren't bound by any regulations, and experts are worried that consumers will end up buying devices that aren't safe or simply aren't effective. So scientists and some manufacturers recently got together to discuss the scope of the problem, and what can be done about it.
the_newsbeagle writes: Starting this fall, consumers can buy a fancy gadget called the Halo Sport (reportedly priced at $750) to stimulate their brains and try to improve their athletic performance. The device, which looks like a pair of headphones, uses a technology called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to send current through the scalp to the motor cortex.
An IEEE Spectrum article explains the scientific rationale for this gadget, hears from the entrepreneurs behind it, and asks the obvious question: If the Halo Sport works as advertised, should its use be prohibited in professional sports? Some elite athletes have already tried it out, with the likes of Olympic skiers and Golden State Warrior basketball players openly revealing their tryouts.
the_newsbeagle writes: Neuroscientist Ted Berger has achieved some remarkable feats in his work on an implanted brain prosthetic to boost memory. Working with rats, he recorded the electrical signals associated with a specific memory from one animal's brain, then inserted that signal—and thus the memory—into another animal's brain. Working with monkeys, the implanted device enhanced the animals' recall in difficult memory tasks.
Still, it's startling to learn that a startup is ready to commercialize Berger's work, and is trying to build a memory prosthetic for humans suffering from Alzheimer's, brain injuries, and stroke. The new company, named Kernel, will fund human trials and develop electrodes that can record from and stimulate more brain cells.
the_newsbeagle writes: Iris scanning is increasingly being used for biometric identification because it’s fast, accurate, and relies on a body part that's protected and doesn’t change over time. You may have seen such systems at a border crossing recently or at a high-security facility, and the Indian government is currently collecting iris scans from all its 1.2 billion citizens to enroll them in a national ID system. But such scanners can sometimes be spoofed by a high-quality paper printout or an image stuck on a contact lens.
The same researcher who conducted that post-mortem study is also looking for solutions, and is working on iris scanners that can detect the "liveness" of an eye. His best method so far relies on the unique way each person's pupil responds to a flash of light, although he notes some problems with this approach.
the_newsbeagle writes: By gaining access to the sensors in someone's smart watch, hackers could track the person's hand movements at an ATM and figure out his/her pin. The hacker needn't be anywhere near the ATM; data can be lifted from the smart watch by either a discreet wireless sniffer or by malware on the watch that sends info to a server. This is hardly the first demonstration of the security flaws in smart watches. Last year, a research group showed that a watch's sensors can reveal keystrokes on a computer keyboard.
the_newsbeagle writes: Say you're trying to lose weight with the aid of technology, but you're not satisfied with step-counters and apps where you log your food intake. Well, here's an experimental device that could keep monitor your every chew of food. These smart glasses record activity in the muscles linked to the jaw, and can tell the difference between foods with different textures, like crunchy cookies and soft bananas.